Mayor Lori Lightfoot to meet with Bally CEO to finalize Chicago casino pick, but opposition from neighbors remains strong – Chicago Tribune

As the city does its best to keep a poker face, Bally CEO Soo Kim landed at Midway Airport on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot to ostensibly finalize his choice as Chicago casinos.

The meeting, scheduled for Thursday morning, is expected to lead to an official city announcement, ending a lengthy vetting process and beginning a new phase as Lightfoot seeks to win over neighbors and aldermen for Bally’s proposed plan to replace the Chicago Tribune printing press. in River West with a casino complex.

“I feel optimistic,” Kim said. “There are still a few issues that we need to address. But everyone thought it was worth doing it in person. Let’s go. »

Rhode Island-based Bally’s, which owns and operates 14 casinos in 10 states, hopes to make its proposed $1.74 billion casino, hotel and entertainment complex at the Freedom Center print shop the flagship of its chain. The proposal apparently beat out rival bids to build a Rivers Casino on the South Loop or a Hard Rock Casino on the Near South Side.

A spokesperson for Rivers 78 declined to comment Wednesday, while Hard Rock did not respond to a request for comment.

The city, which is banking on a casino to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue to fill its gaps in public pension funding, plans to submit its pick to the Illinois Gaming Board for approval in time to include $25 million. dollars in upfront payments from Bally’s in the 2023 Fiscal Budget this fall.

Getting the full city council to approve Bally’s proposal may be difficult, given the vocal opposition from neighboring residents.

The River North Residents Association, which represents nearly 23,000 people living near the proposed Bally site, has expressed concerns about crime, traffic, safety, noise and use of the Chicago River, with more than 86% of 2,311 survey respondents opposed the casino. .

Learning that Bally’s selection could be imminent, the group pledged Wednesday to fight on city council in a bid to defeat the proposal.

“It’s very disappointing and disheartening for us,” said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association. “But we will continue our process. And we’re going to turn our attention to trying to persuade as many city council members as possible to say no to this recommendation.

Bally’s casino proposal involves an option to buy the 30-acre Freedom Center printing site in River West, which was acquired in 2019 by Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group as part of its purchase of 4 $.1 billion from Tribune Media – the former broadcast parent of Tribune Édition.

The plan calls for the demolition of the 41-year-old factory and the relocation of Tribune printing operations to make way for the construction of the permanent casino. Bally’s has a lease option on a former Tribune Publishing warehouse at 700 W. Chicago Ave., where it plans to open a temporary casino within a year, pending state approval.

In October 2018, Tribune Media won approval for a mixed-use development on the site comprising offices, a hotel and thousands of residential units. Bally’s maintains that its proposed casino will cause less disruption and congestion in the neighborhood than the previously approved planned development, but many neighbors are not reassured.

Residents and businesses on Wednesday expressed a range of opinions from concern to resignation to excitement. Some community members interviewed throughout the day cited the possibility of job creation and diversions in the neighborhood, while others cited moral opposition to casinos, or simply fear of traffic jams, crime and noise.

“It’s just going to change the whole complexion of the neighborhood,” said Ronnie Lenzi, whose father bought the riverside steakhouse Erie Cafe in 1992, when much of the surrounding area was parking lots.

Over the years, Lenzi’s family watched the development of condominiums and other residences, and the industrial area of ​​River West began to look like a proper community. Lenzi wants to keep an open mind and a neutral stance, but he said he fears the casino could cause turmoil in the area.

“From the very beginning, when we arrived here, we knew the area was going to change,” Lenzi said, speaking at his family’s wood-panelled restaurant on Wednesday. “We just didn’t know it would happen so quickly.”

River West resident Ashley Arbgast said she thinks the casino would be good for business in the neighborhood, although she expressed concern about increased traffic in the already traffic jam-prone area near the hallway. from Milwaukee Ave. “At this point, I might as well accept it,” she said.

Arbgast, while playing with her two dogs, Bella and Louis, in a dog park overlooking the river, said she thought neighborhood residents were curious about the plans, but ultimately she did not see this as an attraction for members of the community.

“I don’t know if it would be a local attraction,” she said.

Norah O’Malley, who works nearby and sometimes takes river breaks near the proposed casino site, said she was delighted with the development. “Personally, I love casinos,” she said. “I love going to them.”

Eddie Adler, a resident of a skyscraper on the river near the proposed site, said he had mixed feelings. He sees the logic behind the choice of the site: it is a large property near the expressways. But he prefers to see it elsewhere, he says.

“I’m obviously concerned about congestion, traffic, crime,” he said. “But city pensions need to be funded. I’m not sure this is the correct answer, but it is a possible answer.

Alan Miretzky has been a River North resident for approximately 12 years who lives near the proposed casino site. He said he didn’t understand why the Bally’s location was the favorite, when other possible locations seemed to have less of an impact on residential neighborhoods.

“Frankly, I’m appalled,” Miretzky said. “I’m disappointed. I’m angry about this. I feel let down by our mayor. I feel abandoned by our alderman.

Bally’s waterfront site is in Ald. 27th Ward by Walter Burnett. He said Tuesday that while he “would rather we didn’t have a casino” in the neighborhood, “I just don’t see any other way to pay police and firefighter pensions, unless we don’t have a casino.” raise people’s property taxes. I know we have to have one, and I’m not going to BS my people and tell them I’m not going to vote for this, because I’d rather have this than a tax hike.

Despite neighborhood trepidation and likely opposition from gambling critics, a casino in Chicago could provide a boost to the city’s struggling finances and potentially also to Lightfoot’s political future as it is heading towards his re-election campaign.

The passage of Chicago’s casino bill in Springfield in 2020 gave him a victory that had eluded mayors for decades. It was also a notable exception to his struggles to promote his legislative agenda in Springfield. Lightfoot was also successful in his efforts to get the tax structure changed to make a casino more attractive to potential bidders. Even with these changes, the city struggled to attract interest from gaming industry heavyweights, but three companies ultimately submitted five bids to the city.

After unveiling the five proposals last year, Lightfoot said it wants to “have a finalist to recommend to the (Illinois Gaming Board) by the first quarter of next year.” This goal was not achieved as the city announced its intention to hold a series of community forums, giving Lightfoot more time to unveil its choice to the public.

If a majority of aldermen approve of Lightfoot’s preferred choice, he will then head to the state gaming board for an up or down vote on whether or not to license the developer. The city hopes to use casino funds to fill budget holes related to pensions.

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